Art show by all, for all

Festival: Harford County's annual ArtQuest offers free space for original works by creators of any age so that the public is free to see them.

May 23, 2004|By Sarah Merkey | Sarah Merkey,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Festival Park in Aberdeen was vibrant yesterday as more than 140 Harford County artists displayed their work alongside the creations of school-age aspiring artists taking part in the Young Artists' Exhibit, a facet of the 12th annual ArtQuest, sponsored by the Harford County Artists Association.

ArtQuest is an opportunity for Harford County artists, both professional and hobbyists, to display and sell their creations. In addition, one section is devoted to showcasing student art.

There were performances by the Bobby Griffin Band, the Aberdeen Dance Company and the Harford Ballet Company. A puppet show and artist demonstrations rounded out the entertainment.

Paintings, photography, jewelry and homemade T-shirts were among the wide variety of art on display in a park abuzz with the creative energy.

This is the first year ArtQuest was held in Aberdeen. Chairman Jim Craig of Havre de Grace said Festival Park has better parking than Shamrock Park in Bel Air, which had been home to the festival in previous years.

Craig estimated that the cost of ArtQuest was about $12,000, paid for by T-shirt sales, advertisements and grants from the Harford County Cultural Board, the Maryland State Arts Council and Art Friends of the Bel Air Library.

Last year, Craig said, was the first year that the Harford County Artists Association, which has sponsored the event for four years, had to subsidize ArtQuest in order to make ends meet. This year he expects it to break even.

Still, ArtQuest is one of its most worthwhile investments. "This program has tripled membership in the Harford [County] Artists Association," Craig said.

`Positive atmosphere'

A new resident of Bel Air, Cindy Mehr spent her first year at ArtQuest showing her paintings, faces that she said represent the complexity of the modern world. Mehr's paintings range in price from $300 to $900. In contrast to a minimalist style, Mehr considers her paintings to be "maximalist."

"I draw from a whole lot of different ethnic groups," said Mehr. "Everything is reflected."

Mehr, who holds a fine arts degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, has also exhibited her paintings in Spain, France and Japan. "It's a real positive atmosphere to get your start," Mehr said of ArtQuest. "It's great that they're offering this free. It's great that it's so accessible."

When ArtQuest was founded by professional artist Mary C. Woodward, who at that time owned Creative People Inc., the event was small enough to be held in the Bel Air Armory basement. One of her aspirations was to provide the opportunity for artists to display their work without paying a fee.

"The most important thing was that no artist should have to pay to show their work because it is discriminatory and it is wrong," said Woodward, who has retired from organizing the showcase, but still remains involved in ensuring ArtQuest is free for artists and the public.

ArtQuest provides free tent space and display racks to artists who do not have their own. The display racks are either donated to the program by artists or built by volunteers.

"It's always been free," said Peggy Emmons of Fallston, president of the Harford Artists Association and chairwoman of the Young Artists Exhibit. "It's an old-fashioned premise. I'm a very idealistic person; I feel that giving the community the ability to share in all that we do is the ultimate goal."

ArtQuest also emphasizes unique creations. "Original work only," said Woodward. "No copying, no tracing - no cheating, basically."

Six-year-old Jennifer Richards of Meadowvale Elementary School was one of the children participating in the Young Artists Exhibit, and she was eager to point out her own creations. Her favorite was a wooden cross decorated with marbles.

"Sometimes if I mess up," Jennifer said, "I just create something new."

Her mother, Linda Richards, said that this was Jennifer's first ArtQuest, but her son Chris, a sixth-grader at Havre de Grace Middle School, has been showing his work there for five years.

Cassie Struve, a fifth-grader at Bel Air Elementary School, had a variety of floral arrangements on display.

"It's a new hobby for me," Cassie said, as she tried to explain why she likes making arrangements. "It's just that when you look at something you put all your work into and say `wow' - it pays off."

For art's sake

Harford County art teachers in both public and private schools are encouraged to help students fill out the form to submit work for display. "There are times when art has been in jeopardy," Emmons said. "This is a perfect venue for the art teachers in the county to show what they've been teaching."

Rog Hicks, owner of the Blue Dog Art School in Abingdon, encouraged her students to submit work to the festival. In addition, she brought about 30 pieces created by her students with learning difficulties at Highland School.

Child artists were not judged on their work, but the adult artists had the opportunity to be recognized with several awards that carried cash prizes ranging from $100 to $250. Tom Silveroli, a sculptor and a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, selected recipients for three Judge's Choice Awards, a Photography Prize and the Mary C. Woodward Fine Art Award.

Woodward, though she has closed her art school, is still creating works, calling herself a "mixed-media artist." She had a few pieces on display yesterday.

"It's exciting when someone comes over and says `I love this' - it makes you feel so good, right here," Woodward said, gesturing to her heart.

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